WWII and Modernism in the US

Modernism in the US partially began as a result of Adolf Hitler’s view on modern artist’s, designers, architects and so on as being degenerates braking from the traditional and nationalist values instilled by his right-wing political ethos and as a result, they had to flee the country many immigrating to the US in the 1930s where they became integral members of the creative community.


Jan Tschichold

Before this, the US had far from adopted the modernist approach with the 1913 Armory Show which introduced modernism to America resulting in outrage and protest and the public rejection of modern art and design. At this time American graphic design primarily considers of traditional illustrations and when Jan Tschichold’s “Elementary Typographie” insert (see image below) was published in America it was met by heavy criticism.

Jan Tschichold was an Avant-garde typographer that fled to Germany during WWII moving to Switzerland. He considered himself to be one of the most powerful influences on 20th-century typography and worked closely with designers such as Paul Renner (Futura Designer). He promoted the use of sans serifs condemning all other typefaces, and put forward rules on the practice of standardisation relating to modern style usage. Interestingly Tschichold returned to a classicists theory with Roman Typefaces, centred designs and blocks of copy as seen in his Penguin book covers shown below.

I really love the work of Jan Tschichold and while his modernist years are without a doubt timeless works what I perhaps find more interesting is how even on returning to classicists theory Tschichold work at no point become irrelevant or outdated. I love his choices of colour pallets and strong use of oranges and reds and how he remains consistent in his functional approach to design. Likewise, a small number of American designers also saw the validity of Tschichold in 1928 and 1929 with Runner’s Futura typeface and Rudolf Koch’s Kabel typeface both becoming available in America pushing the Modernist movement forward.


Georg Salter

A prominent designer that also immigrated from Germany to New York due to his Jewish lineage at that time was Georg Salter a book designer who has been described as a hybrid modernist who used a collection of photomontage, pen and ink drawings, watercolours and airbrush scenes. Designs such as Salter’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) and Fang and Claw (shown below) are described as being some of Salter’s most triumphant work and it is considered that Salter played a vital role in American book design until his death in 1976.

What I find most interesting about Salter’s work is how he pushes the boundaries of modernism and prescribes a multi-disciplinary approach. While modernism as a style is perhaps one of my favourites I find it hard at times to escape a feeling of repetitiveness when I empty this style in my own work. From this perspective injecting rules and mediums from other disciplines may be a very effective way to lift my work and add an individual feel without completely moving away from the simplicity and structure of the style.


Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser has played a key role in the landscape of graphic design in America and is among the most celebrated graphic designers in America. Studying in Italy under painter Milton Glaser he is described as a “modern renaissance man” pushing modernism further and drawing inspiration from historical styles. One of Glaser’s best-known works is is I heart NY logo shown below.

At a time when the state was near bankruptcy and crime rates were spiking Well, Rich Green developed a marketing campaign in an effort to improve tourism and counteract the city’s poor image. The campaign needed a logo at which point William Doyle approached Glaser to have him produce the design. The simplistic outcome shown above has become so well known that it has been described as being “difficult to imagine the logo being designed”. Glaser describes his inspiration as most likely coming from “memories of carvings in tree trunks”. I feel the simplicity of this design is directly related to the designs memorability and functionality generating an outcome that has truly become iconic. Interestingly Glaser did not make money from the design and describes his pride in “being part of a movement that transformed the city and state that [he] calls home”. This once again demonstrates the power of design and its social impact in our culture and communities.

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